How to be an Authentic Leader and Why?

Research

Leaders at one point in time worked as regular employees. Most of them had to leave their comfort zone to become leaders. It could be for reasons that they didn’t feel ready for a new responsibility, they had never had people reporting to them, or they didn’t feel they could measure up to expectations. Whatever the reason may be, we all get pushed out of our comfort zone at some point in our lives. And with this push is how we grow.

Some leaders attach themselves to their authenticity as an excuse for staying in their comfort zone. It makes them feel like they are being true to themselves. But in all honesty they are holding themselves back, and in cases it can backfire on them. Just imagine an employee that has been promoted to be the supervisor of a department of five. She has always believed herself to be a quiet individual.

Her team notices that their new supervisor just stays in her office and doesn’t have much of a presence in their department. They start walking all over her and going above her head. This supervisor thought she was being true to herself, when she really needed to step out of her comfort zone and communicate more with her department.

A 2013 Gallup poll found that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. Out of roughly 180 million employees studied, only 1 in 8 is psychologically committed to his or her job. A few key reasons for this are frustration, burnout, disillusionment, and misalignment with personal values are cited among the biggest reasons for career change. Companies are encouraging their leaders to discover their “true” selves so they can increase employe morale.

Two psychological profiles about how leaders develop their personal styles have been identified by psychologist Mark Snyder, of the University of Minnesota. The two psychological profiles are “high self-monitors” and “low-self monitors”.

High self monitors or “chameleons” are naturally able and willing to adapt to the demands of a situation without feeling fake. These are people who care about managing their public image and mask their vulnerability. Since they can adapt to situations, they often advance rapidly. The downside of high self monitors is that people perceive them as dishonest.

Low self-monitors or “true-to-selfers” tend to express exactly how they think and feel. The problem with low self-monitors is that they stick too long within their comfort zone and this prevents them from meeting new requirements, or evolving their mindset.

How to:

Research done by Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behaviour and the CORA Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning at Instead suggests a few ways to get started on being a more authentic leader:

1. Learning from a diverse set of role models

Nowadays nothing is original, all learning involves some form of imitation. An important aspect to consider when thinking of being an authentic leader is to take elements for other people’s styles and behaviours and make them your own. Don’t just focus on one person, look for a wide array of role models and pick and chose leadership traits from everyone of them, and compile them into your own mix.

2. Work on making yourself better

Setting goals for ourselves is very important. By setting goals for learning we get the chance to experiment with our own identities without feeling like imposters. When we do this, we understand that we are in the process of learning and that we won’t get everything right from the start. We get the chance to really explore what kind of leaders we can really become.

As per some experiments done by psychologist Carol Dweck from Stanford,when we are concerned about how we will appear to others we actually end up inhibiting our learning of new or unfamiliar tasks.

3. Don’t just stick to “Your Story”

We have all gone through some defining moments that have defined who are today. Consciously, or unconsciously we use these moments to guide us in new situations.

Psychology professor at Northwestern, Dan McAdams describes identity as “the internalized and evolving story that results from a person’s selective appropriation of past, present and future.” What he means is that we need to believe in our own story, but we also need to embrace how it changes over time, especially with respect to what we need our story to do. Visualize different stories of you in your head, and keep editing them until you’re happy with the one that fits the situation you need it in.

Sources:

https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-authenticity-paradox

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